Feeding Families

Calmer Mealtimes and More Adventurous Eaters

Key points

  • Children have extremely variable appetites due to growth spurts and other factors.
  • Children can regulate their own food intake if we let them respond to their hunger and fullness.
  • Hunger and fullness cues are the best guide to how much their body needs.
  • Pressure to control food intake usually has the opposite effect to what’s intended.
  • Let children decide how much they eat.

In the long term, pressure to control food intake usually has the opposite effect to what’s intended

When parents or carers try to control children’s food intake, the child is likely to push back in the opposite direction. In other words, children tend to eat less when pressured to eat more, but eat more when they feel food is scarce.

The best thing we can do is let children decide how much they eat

It’s often hard to know how much food children need at any given moment, so the best thing we can do as parents and caregivers is to let them decide. The more we allow them work out how much food they need, the better they will be at responding to their body’s cues of hunger and fullness, which gives them a valuable tool for lifelong healthy eating.

One well-researched and widely accepted approach is The Division of Responsibility (DoR), developed by world-renowned child nutritionist, Ellyn Satter. If coercion, convincing and/or control has become the norm, it can be difficult to understand how another way of approaching feeding could help, but teh DoR approach makes feeding children much easier. When parents/carers do their job with feeding, the child can do their job of eating.

Parent/Carer's Job Child's Job
Decide WHAT to serve
(while considering your child’s food preferences)

Decide WHEN the family eats

Decide WHERE the family eats

(ideally at a table)
Decide IF they will eat
(from what is served at meal or snack time)

Decide HOW MUCH to eat
(based on feelings of hunger and fullness)

The DoR approach can be summarised as:  Parents provide, children decide.

For more information and tips for establishing healthy eating behaviours, see ‘Is my child a healthy weight?’

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Further support

If you are concerned about your child’s food intake, eating behaviours, growth or nutrition-related health, contact a GP, paediatrician or Accredited Practising Dietitian who can provide a comprehensive assessment that considers your child’s medical history, eating patterns including mealtime experiences, physical activity and genetic factors.

Find an Accredited Practising Dietitian with experience in infant and child growth - https://dietitiansaustralia.org.au/find-an-apd/